Archive for July 2014

A key challenge to knowledge-based economic development faced by Arab countries is weak innovation systems. We are honored to have had our research on Arab innovation systems cited by Dr. Mongi Hamdi, former Head, Science, Technology, and ICT at UNCTAD and Head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (now Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs) in his address to the Arab Forum for Scientific Research and Sustainable Development.

Dr. Hamdi cites Tahseen Consulting’s Arab World Research and R&D Situation Analysis and Options in which we highlight several serious challenges that Arab countries face in developing strong science, technology, and innovation systems:

  • R&D spending is significantly lower than in the developed world with very little private sector funding;
  • Regulatory frameworks do not protect intellectual property leading to low levels of patents and stifling private R&D expenditure;
  • Weak government policy making in research and innovation in spite of various studies which have shown that critical components necessary for innovation systems, research, market-oriented R&D, and entrepreneurship need to be concurrently fostered and linked in knowledge-based economies;
  • Weak institutions such as educational systems; institutions conducting basic, applied, and interdisciplinary research; business incubators; funding institutions; and professional societies;
  • Arab scholarly, scientific, and professional organizations generally operate at a low level of activity due to lack of funding;
  • Venture capital, research foundations, and technology transfer funds that promote research are only emerging now;
  • Few multinationals or regional companies have R&D centers in the Arab World. Incentives to promote private sector R&D, innovative research, and recognition of research achievements are limited;
  • R&D and education, especially graduate education, are strongly coupled. However, the research function has gradually been marginalized in Arab universities;
  • University research centers are few and do not have access to critical resources;
  • Research commercialization is depressed due to the lack of business incubators and disconnects between industry and academia;
  • While availability of scientists and researchers is higher than other developing regions, the number is significantly less than OECD countries and other R&D leaders;
  • Few Arab national or regional organizations or governments provide funding to promote international or inter-Arab research cooperation;
  • Absence of travel grants to attend academic meetings has stifled the formation of professional societies, dissemination of research, and international citation;
  • Individual Arab researchers who lack financial support instead increase their level of international collaboration while neglecting regional cooperation or co-authorship with other Arab researchers, or in extreme cases choose to brain drain.

With its second issue released in July, Forbes Woman Middle East is quickly emerging as a leading publication for female professionals in the Arab World. Rather than focus on beauty and fashion like many competing publications aimed at women in the region, Forbes Woman Middle East is aimed at professional women who are trying to make a mark on companies across the region.

Tahseen Consulting is honored to have its work on female technical vocational education and training and employment in the GCC featured in the July issue. We have posted the article below. In the article, Tahseen Consulting’s Chief Operating Officer Wes Schwalje speaks with Hannah Stewart Executive Editor from Forbes Woman Middle East regarding the barriers facing women in entering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the GCC. In a wide ranging discussion, Schwalje explains the economic impact of the lack of women employed in STEM fields and what GCC countries can do to encourage more women to enter emerging technical fields.

Forbes Woman Middle East: How do the numbers of women working in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields in the GCC compare to men?

Schwalje: The female labor force in the GCC is generally employed in fields such as public administration, education, and social work. In many of the GCC countries, it is not uncommon to find 70% or more of the female labor force concentrated in the public sector. However, differing labor market structures in GCC countries means that women are more willing to work in STEM fields outside the public sector in some countries than others. While the male labor force in the GCC is also heavily concentrated in the public sector, there has been a notable shift towards employment in more diverse STEM fields within the construction, transportation, petrochemicals, and extractive sectors.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Why are there so few?

Schwalje: The structure of GCC educational systems, gender-biased academic offerings, and lack of female faculty serve to dissuade females from enrolling in STEM programs and subsequently entering technical employment fields. Government and institutional decisions to offer select programs to women fail to fully cover STEM fields of importance to emerging knowledge-based fields in the region. In many GCC nations, women also do not have adequate opportunities for exposure to STEM at a young age which means they do not have an opportunity to develop an interest in STEM fields. Social and cultural norms are highly influential in motivating the occupational choices of females in GCC nations and limit the sectors in which females desire to work.

Forbes Woman Middle East: How persistent is this problem across the rest of the world?

Schwalje: Female students in the GCC make up only a small portion of students enrolled in secondary technical pathways that may lead to continuing their studies or seeking employment in STEM fields. Female enrollment rates at the secondary level are significantly lower than OECD countries. While females in GCC countries have much stronger TVET enrollment rates at the tertiary level that are on par with the OECD countries, many women who are trained in STEM fields ultimately wind up being employed in the public sector rather than in the fields they were trained in. The magnitude of these trends, though present in other countries, suggests a unique regional challenge regarding societal and labor market signals that presently push women towards a very narrow selection of socially acceptable employment fields in the public sector.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What are the main barriers holding women back?

Schwalje: The success of females in accessing higher education, in which females now make up the majority of enrollments in nearly all of the GCC countries, to some degree has masked the emerging regional challenge of attracting women to STEM programs and their subsequent labor market entry into emerging high skill, knowledge-intensive, STEM fields. However, many women who attend higher education receive degrees in fields which are not consistent with regional economic ambitions to grow technology and innovation-driven industries. The issue starts from a young age when girls lack exposure to STEM fields and are encouraged to pursue academic fields such as humanities, social sciences, and education. Socio-cultural beliefs and structural labor market features influence female higher education choices away from STEM fields and lead to occupational sorting into a limited number of occupations in the public sector.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What are the implications of low female presence in the STEM fields for societies and economies across the Arab world?

 Schwalje: When women are enabled to reach their full potential in the labor force, there are significant social and economic gains. Increased female participation in STEM fields can influence changes in gender role attitudes and can broaden labor market options for women. Low rates of female employment in STEM fields could have very negative implications for regional growth by depriving emerging knowledge-based industries of highly skilled labor. Although labor force participation amongst GCC females remains amongst the lowest in the world, there is potential to attract highly educated females into the labor market and high growth STEM fields in particular. Low rates of labor market participation make it more difficult for women to enter the labor market, particularly in STEM fields or companies with few women. Without a critical mass of other females in STEM fields, women face many barriers to success: they may not be able to create support networks; they may be viewed as invisible and powerless in their institutions; they may face difficulties working with male colleagues; and they may have difficulty advancing in their workplaces.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What can GCC countries do to amend the disparity?

Schwalje: Across the GCC, some STEM options are not open to women, including many advanced engineering sub-disciplines critical to regional development. Addressing the supply of TVET programs means not only increasing the number of options available to women but also ensuring that institutions are female-friendly and offer high quality programs attractive to females. To increase the number of females studying in STEM programs at the secondary and tertiary levels, GCC countries will have to address socio-cultural barriers to enrollment. Addressing these barriers will involve interventions and policies aimed at students and parents that positively influence persistent beliefs about the kinds of students who attend TVET and the post-graduation opportunities available to women. Ease of entry, effective labor market and social policies, and female-friendly workplaces are critical to attracting outgoing technically trained females from national education and training systems to employment in STEM fields. In several GCC countries policy experiments with training and wage subsidy programs have proven effective in incentivizing companies to hire more women.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Do you believe that more attention from faculty advisers might keep STEM women on the academic career track?

Schwalje: In many of the GCC countries, women are practically absent from STEM faculties. Within institutional faculty structures, female educators in the GCC also tend to be concentrated at the lower ends of the academic pyramid. While more attention from faculty advisers could potentially play an important role in increasing female enrollment and employment in STEM fields, research suggests that role models have the most powerful impact on students’ academic success when they share similar background characteristics with students. From this perspective, low numbers of female faculty might perpetuate beliefs that women are not successful in STEM fields. Because women have historically been employed in the public sector in the majority of GCC countries, there are also few female role models outside academic institutions. While there is a value in highlighting the successes of women who are from royal or prominent families, it is unclear to what extent the experiences of such women can serve as aspirational motivation for women. A major challenge in the GCC remains identifying and exposing young women to role models with whom they can more personally identify with.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Could conditioning, via early socialization and gender bias be to blame for the disparity?

Schwalje: Research on educational content in GCC nations has found that textbooks may contain implicit biases that portray women in administrative rather than technical positions. This research suggests that women throughout the Arab region are socialized to occupy different social and economic roles than males, and part of this socialization process occurs in educational institutions at young ages. Prior research has found that textbook content throughout the region continues to portray women as family members, while portraying males in their professions. The way that women are portrayed in textbooks to children, even at young ages, influences girls’ understandings of the appropriate future roles and paths available to them. When women are predominantly portrayed as mothers or in administrative positions, textbooks are re-enforcing socio-cultural norms that women should stay at home or should take predominantly desk-based work in the future. In learning and curricula materials across the GCC, there appears a widespread need to more positively and broadly portray women working in STEM fields.

Forbes Woman Middle East: Are there any signs to indicate positive change in the MENA region, or perhaps examples of Arab women successfully working in this field?

Schwalje: There have been several positive regulatory and policy changes that signify change. Many of the GCC countries have made positive changes to labor laws to guarantee women receive equal pay as men. Yet, females are still limited in terms of the fields in which they can be employed and hours they can work by some national labor laws. The majority of the GCC countries have made significant progress on creating national qualifications frameworks which are important to changing opinions about STEM fields as many people do not currently understand how particular technical or vocational qualifications relate to more academic university degree level qualifications. The UAE’s National Qualifications Authority is now leading regional efforts towards a GCC-wide qualifications framework to increase student mobility and qualification portability regionally.

Competitions are an emerging means via which GCC countries have begun to expose students to STEM fields. In many of these competitions at the regional and international level, the GCC’s young women are excelling. National, regional, and global skills competitions can help attract women to STEM fields. Yet, many of the competitions and experiential opportunities offered in the region tend to be supported by international organizations and multinationals rather than indigenous initiatives supported by the GCC business community.

Forbes Woman Middle East: What advice would you give to young women interested in entering the STEM arena?

Schwalje: For youth in the GCC, following parental advice to seek a role in the public sector was generally very sound in the past due to higher salaries, benefits, and favorable conditions of employment. Nowadays, emerging research done on the returns to education in the GCC suggests that STEM qualifications, and particularly those qualifications which can be earned through two-year technical and vocational programs, are increasingly valued in regional labor markets. For example, evidence from Qatar shows that the rate of return to technical education exceeds that of academic higher education. In Bahrain, the payoff to two-year, post-secondary technical education is also higher than the payoff to a university degree. However, information gaps about the future trajectory of industries and emergent skills needs, the returns to investing in particular skills sets, and projections on the future returns of education and training investments are often unavailable in Arab countries to help students calibrate their education and employment decisions. For this reason, young women interested in emerging STEM fields must seek out information and form mentor relationships with women in their industry of interest. Because career counseling tends to show a strong bias towards academic education in the region, young women will need to make these connections themselves and develop an individual development plan to examine their skills, interests, and values.

You trust financial institutions to look after your money, but can you trust them to safeguard your personal financial information? By reviewing the data privacy practices of several of the major banks in the UAE, we investigate how UAE personal financial data privacy policies can be improved to offer consumers more control over their personal data.

As the internet continues to expand as a convenient way for UAE consumers to shop for financial services, we focused on understanding the personal financial data privacy practices of 14 of the UAE’s domestic and foreign banks from their websites. Nowadays safe banking involves making good choices particularly surrounding protecting your personal financial information to avoid costly surprises and even scams.

View Our Other Work on National Data Regulations and Standards in the GCC

Is Open Data Leading to Better Government in the GCC?

Banks know a great deal about consumers – they know how much you earn, how much you spend, where you spend your hard earned Dirhams, where you work, what your title is, your address, your phone number, your e-mail address, the languages you speak etc. How do financial institutions use this personal data?

As we discovered, many of the banks in the UAE use this personal data to market services to you directly or through third party affiliates. This is why you are receiving SMS messages on a Wednesday at 3 PM from your bank promoting a 40% discount on Japanese cultured pearl necklaces even though you are not in the market for pearls. There appears to be no easy way for consumers to compare UAE financial institutions’ personal financial data privacy policies. Because you likely haven’t read your bank’s data privacy policies, we analyze them for you in this blog post.

Are Some Banks Better (or Worse) Than Others?

According to the UAE Banks Federation Code of Conduct, banks must use reasonable care to prevent unauthorized disclosure of client information and can only release confidential information when permitted by law. By law, UAE banks require consumer authorization to share private financial information with affiliated companies and third parties that market products or services to customers. However, there are no laws in the UAE that specify how financial institutions should notify consumers of their institutional data sharing practices or which extend consumers the right to limit or opt out of sharing their private data. In some countries specific laws contain financial privacy provisions which give consumers the right to opt out of sharing their personal information with affiliates and third parties for marketing solicitations via telemarketing, SMS, direct mail marketing, or electronic mail.

Since institutional data sharing polices in the UAE are devolved to individual financial institutions, there are significant differences in financial institutions’ privacy practices. For example, there is significant variance in the provisions of online privacy policies of UAE financial institutions with several institutions failing to offer online privacy policies in Arabic. Institutional data sharing practices are also commonly buried in 50+ page terms and conditions documents which are not consumer friendly.

In the absence of standardized disclosure of institutional privacy practices, there is significant opportunity for UAE financial institutions to distinguish themselves by adopting more consumer friendly privacy practices. In a recent study Tahseen Consulting conducted on data sharing practices of financial institutions in the UAE, we found that only three of the UAE’s 10 largest banks allowed consumers to opt out of sharing their information for marketing solicitation. However, even these institutions failed to offer clear processes on how consumers could opt out of sharing their private data.

Data sharing practices of financial institutions in the UAE

In a recent study Tahseen Consulting conducted on data sharing practices of financial institutions in the UAE, we found that only three of the UAE’s 10 largest banks allowed consumers to opt out of sharing their information for marketing solicitation.

Mandated annual privacy disclosures in a standardized format which would explain with whom data is shared, what data is collected, how data is collected, why data is shared, and explain opt-out rights would significantly improve industry data privacy practices. Until the UAE mandates such disclosures, it is extremely difficult for consumers to distinguish between the data sharing practices of financial institutions. The only way for consumers to fully understand how their private information will be treated by a particular financial institution is to read their bank’s standard terms and conditions. Unfortunately, banks don’t make this easy for consumers, and consumers will have to search through a lengthy document to locate the bank’s data sharing provisions. However, the majority of UAE banks do not offer consumers the right to opt out of sharing their personal information with affiliates or third parties. UAE financial institutions generally make the holding of an account contingent upon consumers agreeing to the sharing of their personal information for marketing purposes. The only way to avoid having your information shared for marketing purposes is to cease to be a customer.

US Model Privacy Form for Financial Institutions

Financial institutions in the US are required to make annual disclosures to inform consumers of how their personal financial information is shared and what rights they have to limit the sharing of their data. The financial services industry in the US adopted a standard disclosure format to make it easier for consumers to compare privacy policies between financial institutions and more easily opt out of banks sharing certain types of information for marketing purposes.

I Never Agreed to This. Did Your Read the Fine Print?

While there is no federal law that protects personal information in the UAE, a number of laws have broad protections that prevent the sharing of information about an individual’s private or family life without consent. For example, the UAE Credit Information Protection Law contains provisions which require written approval to share confidential consumer credit information. However, many consumers in the UAE don’t realize that they provide written authorization to their bank to share credit, financial, and personal information with affiliates and third parties when they complete account opening procedures. After a consumer opens an account, banks continue to gather personal information, including data such as postal and e-mail address, phone numbers, employment, financial status, and credit history, from transactions and applications for services such as funds transfers and loans.

When consumers complete account opening application forms, they must agree to a declaration that indicates they have read and agree with the financial institution’s general terms and conditions for holding an account and using internet banking services. Within these documents, which are often difficult for consumers to read and understand, financial institutions retain the right to share a consumers’ private information with affiliates, companies related by common ownership or control, and third parties, nonaffiliated financial companies with a formal agreement with the financial institution to market products or services to the bank’s customers. Several banks also retain the right to share private information with affiliates and third-parties in countries outside the UAE.

Example Declaration From Account Sign Up Form Authorizing Your Information To Be Shared

You just signed this declaration when you opened your bank account, but did you read Clause 5 on page 7 of the General Terms and Conditions for Banking Services regarding how your personal information is used and shared for marketing and other purposes?

Since UAE laws do not contain provisions restricting information sharing among companies related by common ownership or control, personal information (such as name, address, and account number) and account information (such as type of accounts, account balances, and transaction history) can be shared for marketing purposes. For example, if a large bank has affiliated subsidiaries that offer private banking, financial management, or insurance services, all of the consumer’s information can be freely shared for cross selling additional services. The UAE’s approach is similar to the United States in which the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act allows companies to share personal data with affiliated entities with the exception of information on creditworthiness. However, in Europe, the European Union Data Directive prevents banks from sharing personal data between affiliated entities to cross sell services unless the information was specifically collected for marketing a particular service.

When consumers complete account opening application forms and agree to a financial institution’s general terms and conditions, they also typically authorize the financial institution to share their information with third parties which have formal agreements to market products and services to consumers via telemarketing, SMS, direct mail marketing, or electronic mail. Generally, third-party service providers have access to Personal information (name, address and account number), Account information (type of accounts, account balances and transaction history), and Transaction information (dates, amounts, locations and type of transaction) but not account numbers.

Because the UAE has residents from so many countries, reactions to telemarketing, SMS, direct mail marketing, or electronic mail marketing solicitations range from apathy to consumers becoming extremely irate because they do not know how a particular entity received their private information and are unable to remove themselves from a marketer’s database. The marketing departments of financial institutions use personal data to market directly to existing clients, cross sell products of affiliated companies, and form joint marketing partnerships that allow third parties to target customers with solicitations for other products and services. Financial institutions and third parties who have entered into formal agreements with a particular financial institution do not need to purchase databases to sell into their existing client base since they already have substantial private information about consumers already.

What Could Regulators Do to Prevent This Issue?

  1. Mandate annual privacy disclosures in a standardized format in Arabic and English which would explain with whom data is shared, what data is collected, how data is collected, why data is shared, and explain opt-out rights would significantly improve transparency of industry data privacy practices;
  2. Similar to Europe, the UAE could enact a law which would mandate that data must be collected for specified, explicit purposes and not further processed in a way incompatible with those purposes;
  3. Enact federal laws which would compel financial institutions to implement simple opt-out processes so that consumers canlimit the transfer and use of personal information;
  4. Require financial institutions to provide easy access to privacy policies at branch offices and online through a single web site with opt-out information;
  5. Financial institutions could be required to provide simply stated and clear privacy policies following common standards for readability to stop the current practice of banks including data sharing provisions in general terms and conditions that must be agreed to in order to hold an account;
  6. Clarify the rights of individuals to protect their privacy and seek remedies if their privacy rights are violated and stop the practice of allowing banks to indemnify themselves from damages which might result from the sharing of personal information with third parties;
  7. Regulate the sharing of private information to countries outside the UAE;
  8. Give individuals the right to review information that is disclosed or to correct inaccurate or incomplete data.

Tahseen Consulting’s conceptual model for the governance of national workforce skills development systems was recently cited in an analysis of Romania’s lifelong learning system for knowledge-based economic development.

View Our Work on National Skills Formation Systems for Knowledge-based Economic Development

A Conceptual Model of National Skills Formation for Knowledge-based Economic Development in the Arab World

Similar to the Arab World, the findings from Romania indicate that government interventions are needed to align the education and training system with macroeconomic development as well as resolve issues that discourage individuals from participating in lifelong learning.

Tahseen Consulting’s research on the national workforce skills required for knowledge-based development is featured in the below report by the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta. The report, entitled Technical Skills Mapping for Accelerated Technology-Based Socioeconomic Development, shows that Nigeria faces many of the same difficulties resource-rich Arab countries face in developing national technical and vocational workforce skills for diversification into knowledge-based industries.